Review: Headlong's Chimerica at the Almeida has a lot of fizz
The Lucy Kirkwood-written and Headlong Theatre produced Chimerica starts off with such energy that married with what is a startling set and a crackling, witty script it is was easy to get drawn into the story and spectacle.
In a series of shortish scenes, the central story is about photographer Joe Schofield's (Stephen Campbell Moore) search for the man he photographed standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the student protests in 1989.
Thematically it is about Chinese vs US culture, the economics of the two and their changing relationship. It explores personal freedom, the role of the press and the influence of business and politics on the media - it is a three hour play after all drawing parallels and contrasts between the two nations.
There is a love story thread between Joe and a British, consumer-profiler Tessa (Claudie Blakley) who is working for a US credit card company looking to make in roads in China, and a separate thread about Joe's Chinese friend Zhang Lin (Benedict Wong) who lost his young wife in the demonstrations.
The stories are played out on different sets within and around a huge cube which is frequently rotated to show new scenes. On the outer walls images are projected so that, for example, a plain white door becomes the entrance to New York apartments or a block of flats in Beijing. It is a fairly simple but clever and effective piece of staging.
But for all that, the initial energy does begin to fade a little and although it has many good moments of drama, tension and laugh out loud humour it somehow never really fully recaptures the fizz and drive of the opening half an hour. There is a lot going on and certain story-lines worked better than others. There were some strange choices *plot spoiler* Zhang's wife haunting his fridge, for example, just seemed odd in the wider context.
It's clever staging and witty script feels sometimes a little encumbered by a slight bloated story. There aren't many plays that justify long running times and I know this one was edited down to three hours. Perhaps a bit of further pruning would just tighten it up and give it a depth that matched its cleverness and freshness in other areas.
Chimerica runs at the Almeida Theatre until 6 July and I was there as part of a blogger's night organised by the theatre. You can read Webcowgirl's review and @polyg saw it a few nights ago.